The media’s representation of women over the last year has been a rocky one. At times it was highly empowering and inspiring, butat others… well, there was Robin Thicke. But the re-imagination of Lara Croft for the new Tomb Raider game (released in March) was triumphantly progressive for female representations in an industry that is so often called out for sexism.
Since the birth of Tomb Raider 17 years ago, there has been extensive debate as to whether Lara is a strong female icon, or a mere pawn in the game of male titillation. And in her 1996 debut, it was evident why the latter may have been the case. Intentionally designed as an ‘exaggeration’ of the female form, Lara Croft started out with a 24-inch waist and a 36-inch bust. Obviously, creator Toby Gard was a boob fixated guy. It’s a miracle she managed to aim a gun without them getting in the way. By all means, the graphical limitations of the Playstation One had a part to play (hence why they are so prism-like), but with the majority of game designers and game players being men, I suspect another not-so-inconspicuous motive.
Times have changed, and the enhancement of game design after 20 years is absolutely staggering. Yet sometimes as a female gamer, I still feel really uncomfortable. Sexist tropes are apparent in most of the games I play, even in the likes Super Mario. Anita Sarkeesian’s series, ‘Damsel in Distress: Tropes vs Women in Video Games’, was another highlight of 2013, in which these recurring sexist plot devices were put under scrutiny. Although Lara Croft has never been a ‘damsel in distress’, it was refreshing to see that in such a highly anticipated multi-platform game, none of these clichés were used. There were no female mercy killings, women begging to be killed (trust me, this happens a lot), or ‘women in the refrigerator’ – a term coined by Gale Simone to suggest a women that is killed off in order to enhance male character development. Although Lara’s best friend Sam needs saving, there is no attitude to suggest that Sam is a possession taken from Lara; her quest is one of friendship and the human constitution of helping others.
This forward thinking may have been incited due to the fact that the lead writer last year was a woman. Imagine. In the recent Channel 4 documentary, ‘Charlie Brooker: Videogames Changed the World’, Rhianna Pratchett explained her motivation:
‘I didn’t really like the way that she’d been adopted by the wider media as somewhat over sexualised and I felt that as a younger female gamer, I was being pushed away from the franchise, and so when I took on the role of helping develop this new, younger Lara, I really thought about what myself as a gamer when I first started out, would have liked.’
The newfound vigour in Tomb Raider and Lara’s character progression as a human, not just a woman, is a credit to the storytelling. The plot is not gender-specific; Lara is not considered weak due to her femininity, but independent and capable. There is no shying away from the grit and the brutality that often encompass games with a male protagonist.
Lara’s body has also improved dramatically; after all, there is now no excuse for ‘abstract’ anatomy. Her waist is thicker, her breasts smaller (thank god), and throughout the game she gets dirtier, cut and bruised like any real explorer would whilst hunting down a possessed Sun Queen.
It just goes to show that tropes are boring, predictable and unsophisticated. Tomb Raider brought my boyfriend and I together, and I’m pretty sure that most of the time, he wasn’t just staring at her arse whilst she ran. And the improvements are twofold; not only are gamers receiving a more positive image of women (and probably one of the best gaming experiences I have ever had), Tomb Raider has demonstrated that women writers and designers are capable of getting a 9.1 IGN rating. Hopefully this will increase opportunity for women in the future.
Of course, the industry isn’t completely filled with sexist pigs; there have been other games recently that show a positive attitude towards women. But with Lara selling more than 1 million copies in less than 48 hours of it’s release, it’s uplifting to think that so many people are interacting with such an empowering message. Something is changing for video gamers; with Lara backing the fourth wave, it’s about time that other media productions followed her lead.